Global Issues | Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment
Gender equality is a human right,1 but our world faces a persistent gap in access to opportunities and decision-making power for women and men.2 Globally, women have fewer opportunities for economic participation than men, less access to basic and higher education, greater health and safety risks, and less political representation.2 Guaranteeing the rights of women and giving them opportunities to reach their full potential is critical not only for attaining gender equality, but also for meeting a wide range of international development goals. Empowered women and girls contribute to the health and productivity of their families, ...view middle of the document...
7 Families may also rely on girls' labor for household chores, carrying water, and childcare, leaving limited time for schooling. But prioritizing girls' education provides perhaps the single highest return on investment in the developing world.8 An educated girl is more likely to postpone marriage, raise a smaller family, have healthier children, and send her own children to school. She has more opportunities to earn an income and to participate in political processes, and she is less likely to become infected with HIV.
Women's health and safety is another important area. HIV/AIDS is becoming an increasingly impactful issue for women.9 This can be related to women having fewer opportunities for health education, unequal power in sexual partnership, or as a result of gender-based violence . Maternal health is also an issue of specific concern. In many countries, women have limited access to prenatal and infant care, and are more likely to experience complications during pregnancy and childbirth. This is a critical concern in countries where girls marry and have children before they are ready; often well before the age of 18.10 Quality maternal health care can provide an important entry point for information and services that empower mothers as informed decision-makers concerning their own health and the health of their children.
A final area of focus in attaining gender equality is women's economic and political empowerment. Though women comprise more than 50% of the world's population, they only own 1% of the world's wealth.11 Throughout the world, women and girls perform long hours of unpaid domestic work. In some places, women still lack rights to own land or to inherit property, obtain access to credit, earn income, or to move up in their workplace, free from job discrimination.11 At all levels, including at home and in the public arena, women are widely underrepresented as decision-makers. In legislatures around the world, women are outnumbered 4 to 1, yet women's political participation is crucial for achieving gender equality and genuine democracy.12
The World Economic Forum recently ranked the United States as 19 th in the world on its gender gap index.15 With women comprising less than one fifth of elected members of Congress,13 the report identifies political empowerment as the greatest gender equity issue for the United States. The U.S. ranked higher in economic empowerment, but women's earning power remains approximately 20% lower than men's.14 Women in the United States have a very high ranking of educational attainment, though, with high levels of literacy and enrollment in primary, secondary, and university education. At present, there are more U.S. women attending college than men.15
Globally, no country has fully attained gender equality.15 Scandinavian countries like Iceland, Norway, Finland, and Sweden lead the world in their progress toward closing the gender gap.15 In these countries, there is relatively equitable...